Privacy experts are expressing growing concern over the federal government’s ability to monitor virtually every act of our lives. In addition to monitoring every phone call, fax, email and click on the web, anti-terrorism legislation ensures that every financial transaction is suspect.
Some authors have asserted that the average American professional will commit three federal crimes every day, without even realizing it. The book, “Three Felonies a Day” explains that there is so much new legislation every year, and it is so ambiguous, that federal prosecutors can interpret the laws broadly and without regard to criminal intent.
Criminal intent used to form the basis of determining guilt, but over the last 70 years it has been supplanted by a more technical and literal application of the laws. The only reason that far more people are not in jail is because federal prosecutors can’t look at everyone.
Remember Eliot Spitzer, the former Governor of NY who resigned after a scandal involving a prostitute? He was brought down because a bank teller submitted a suspicious activity report because of the Governor’s cash transactions at the bank. I for one don’t condone his behavior, but it’s pretty scary when a bank teller can decide who to rat on.
A famous defense lawyer is in jail right now for violations of financial laws that bar structuring financial transactions to avoid the $10,000 cash limits. Above $10,000 you have to fill out forms which raise a lot of red flags. This defense attorney was often paid in cash by his clients, and was worried about keeping so much cash around.
He began depositing cash in amounts of $8,000 and $9,000 into his bank account. He reported all the money as income to the IRS. A few years later, he was indicted and eventually convicted. His crime was financial structuring. It didn’t matter that he had declared the income, that he had not evaded taxes, he was still considered guilty. He remains in jail. We’ve already seen how the Department of Homeland Security believes that evangelical Christians, gun owners, tax protestors and pro-life activists can be considered terrorists. If you’ve attended a ‘tea part,’, you’re probably on a list as well.
All these developments mean it’s more important than ever that you address some basic privacy issues. Don’t give out your social security number unless it’s absolutely necessary. Many people probably have your SS number and don’t really need it. If you’re asked for it, ask why it’s necessary or if you’re required by law to give it out. Check your driver’s license and see if your social is listed there; if it is, get a new one and have it withheld.
By restricting access to your social, you’re cutting off a critical number that criminals need to steal from you or use your identity.
Another key step is to restrict who you give your home address to. I was shocked recently to discover that by Googling my name, my home address actually popped up at the top of Google’s search results. It was shocking to me that anyone, anywhere with my name could show up at my house. With the technological developments in recent years, information like your home phone number and home address are accessible to almost anyone.
I’ve started using a private mailbox to receive all my mail. I give that address out to everyone, unless they truly need my home address. This way almost anyone who has access to personal information will actually think I live at a UPS Store in the local shopping mall.
I used to believe that if you didn’t have anything to hide you didn’t need to be worried about keeping things private. However, as we see in the headlines daily, either rogue government agents or criminals can access your private information and use it to their advantage. Just imagine if people knew that you were stockpiling food, weapons, perhaps equipment or valuables in your home; the government might decide you are a domestic terrorist or a criminal might decide yours is the best home to break into.
Think of personal privacy as an insurance policy against adverse events in your life. A few simple, inexpensive steps can provide a wealth of protection and peace of mind. There is a lot of information on the web, so take a few minutes to research personal and financial privacy issues.